Reigning world champion Casey Stoner says he has no idea what his potential will be in tomorrow’s Grand Prix of Japan after marking his return from injury with seventh place in a tough qualifying session at the Twin Ring Motegi.
The Aussie hasn’t raced since he was a heroic fourth in Indianapolis when he raced despite suffering serious damage to his right ankle in a vicious qualifying high-side accident.
The Repsol Honda rider ended qualifying in Japan today with a best time of 1.45.745 that left him 0.776s off Jorge Lorenzo in pole position.
The double world champion was less than 0.5s behind Cal Crutchlow in third spot but when asked by MCN what his potential in tomorrow’s 24-lap race will be, he said: “It depends on me really, a little bit like Indianapolis.
"At Indy I had a pace quite a lot higher than everybody else and that is what helped me get through that race to a possible podium position. But this weekend I am definitely struggling a lot more on a track where I've always done really well and with all these right-handers and trying to pick the bike up I just can't push my body to get the bike up quick enough.
"I'm struggling a lot. It is really difficult to say what I'm capable of tomorrow."
Stoner was disappointed not to have challenged more closely for the front row. He was impressively building up his pace but a mistake with the set-up of his factory RC213V machine blunted his challenge.
He said: "In a lot of ways there were only negatives today. I thought I had the pace to get on the front row.
"I've slowly been getting more confidence with the bike. I thought at least I’d have a shot of fighting for the front row but for the second soft tyre we went completely in the wrong direction and every good point on the bike went worse.
"I had absolutely no rear grip. The rear wanted to follow me around and almost high-side me. After that I just decided to play it safe and not push.”
The physical demands of the stop and go Twin Ring Motegi are also taking a toll on Stoner, who turns 27 on Tuesday.
The right ankle he badly damaged in Indianapolis is not allowing him to ride anywhere close to his normal fluency and he said: “I thought I'd be able to get a bit more movement today but unfortunately it just doesn't want to move, so my lean angles are lot less than I would normally run, especially in the middle of the slow corners.
"I can't get to the lean angle, I can't get the bike to turn and to pick up the bike for the exit. I can't push the bike up quickly enough because my foot is jammed in one position. So I’m using a little too much rear brake and it is a bit savage at the moment.
"We are trying to set the bike up in another way but it is difficult because on left hand corners I'm OK, while on the rights I can't get it right.”